Do you think your organization’s website isn’t your job? Since your website can help you raise more money, recruit more volunteers and gather momentum for your mission, making sure it’s top-notch is the job of nearly everyone at your organization – including you.
So read on. And make sure to influence, if not lead, the next website redesign your organization takes on—even if you don’t think it’s in your job description.
We’re proud of the fabulous websites we design for Mission Minded clients. So when it came to redesigning our own, we knew it had to be at least as good. These nine rules we followed along the way will help you make your next website redesign a huge success.
1. Prioritize Your Calls to Action
What kinds of people do you need to attract to your site and what action do you want them to take? Just having a good feeling about you isn’t enough. Do you want them to call you? Make a donation? Sign a petition? Tell their friends about you?
Getting very clear about what you want them to do will help you create a site that encourages them to do it. Sounds simple, right? Yet so many nonprofits think their website should be organized by program area or department. Instead, think like a visitor to your site. She probably doesn’t care about your internal organization or anything that affects only employees. She wants to know why your organization matters and how she can get involved. Make it easy for her to find out with as few clicks as possible.
2. Think Like Your Audience
When you understand your audiences, you can speak right to them. And you should. Take the time to imagine why someone came to your site and what might be on his mind. What matters to him? How can you address it? Then say what he wants to hear. That might be different from what you want to say, but speaking to his concerns is the best way to engage him. Don’t just list your programs and statistics about their success. Instead, clearly state the problem, the solution and how the visitor can take action to be part of that solution. You’re proud of your programs – and you should be. But program descriptions alone don’t excite most people (except the people who run them).
3. Be on Brand
If a new or updated website doesn’t powerfully reinforce the big promise you’re making, the site is working against you – not for you. The signals your website sends about your organization’s character come through strongly. That means your website should be in step with your organization’s values and personality. And it should proudly convey the unique value and promise you offer to the world.
If your food bank wants to be seen as working on innovative solutions to hunger, you’d better not have an outdated site that looks like every other food bank a Google search might uncover. For donors to believe you’re innovative, you need to look innovative in every single thing you do – and that includes a fresh approach in your website.
Remember when Apple computer opened its first retail stores? They broke every rule in the book because they are a truly innovative company. No counters, no cash registers, no boring lighting. They innovated everything, which sent the message that Apple was a pioneering company. Apple makes it clear they are a company for those who see themselves as pioneering, innovative or off-beat. Make sure your website represents the true nature of your organization, so likeminded people are drawn to you.
4. Don’t Put Your Mission Statement on Your Home Page
Surprised? Mission statements are usually so perfectly accurate that they fail to inspire. Have you been in those meetings where everyone around the table has a chance to shove in another word? Watch this hilarious video about a groupthink mission statement fiasco.
Your mission statement may be an airtight description of your raison d’être, but what you need on your home page is something more human, conversational and inspiring. At Mission Minded, we counsel our clients to create a short introductory message called the Belief Message that says clearly what your organization believes, what you do and why you do it. Here’s the Belief Message we helped write for the Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS. It’s right on their home page.
The Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS believes that children need to be made a higher priority in the international response to HIV and AIDS. The Coalition brings funders and technical experts together to advocate for the best policy, research, and programs for children because children are a vulnerable population that has too often been overlooked.
5. Show. Don’t Tell.
The chances of your website visitors reading every word on your site are low. Very low. They should be riveted by your gorgeous prose, but they probably won’t be. So make sure that you send your most important messages not in the body of the text, but through potent visuals: good design, powerful photos, bold headlines. Rather than facts, figures and statistics, tell a short story. And pair it with a riveting photograph. As Andy Goodman tells us, “No one ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart.” So hook visitors with emotional stories and values-laden ideas.
Take a look at your current site and imagine what conclusion a visitor would draw from looking only at the imagery, headlines and overall design of your site. If it’s not the conclusion you’d like them to draw, now is the time to redesign your site so it shows the world what you do and why it matters.
6. Use the Word YOU
Employing the second person is the most powerful way we know to get the attention of a visitor to your website. The word YOU is the best way to speak to your audience. Don’t tell them about your work. Tell them about themselves and how they fit into your work. (Do you notice that this whole blog post is written in the second person?)
7. Respect the Process
There’s a way to go about designing a really, really good website, and it starts with strategy. Without being clear on what actions you want your target audiences to take, you can’t possibly begin. Starting to write before you outline your website’s architecture, build wireframes and refine the basic web design would be like buying furniture for your new house before building it. Once you’ve determined some common routes that visitors will use to navigate the site, you’ll be able to arrange your content in a way that’s intuitive for them.
8. Divide to Conquer Content Development
There is often so much content needed that tasking one person with writing it all can be too overwhelming. For our own website redesign at Mission Minded, we divided up the work so that everyone had a manageable amount to draft. Then we worked with a talented copyeditor to pull it all together into one voice – on brand for Mission Minded.
9. Invest in Good Design
Though free website templates abound, good design reigns supreme. If you hire a professional website designer, preferably one that deeply understands the nonprofit sector and communication strategy and best practices of web design, you’ll launch a site you can be proud of. You don’t necessarily have to spend a huge amount. But working with a pro – either an individual or a company that specializes in nonprofit websites – will help ensure that your site is easy to use and that it powerfully signals to every visitor the importance of your work and how to engage with it.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton